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Slow roasted leg of lamb (whether you go bone-in or boneless) is the ultimate impress-your-in-laws dish. So isn't it lucky that it's also perfect for big holiday dinners, like Christmas and Easter? The flavor of the lamb is unreal, and the slow roast method of cooking ensures it comes out tasting beautiful with a gorgeous texture. That being said - there's definitely a difference between how you cook the two, and how they turn out, but we'll go over all that in a bit.
Lamb is one of my absolute favorite meats to eat, hands down. I know that for a lot of you, the flavor of lamb can be strong - but if you buy high quality meat and cook it properly, I promise you it won't!
What does Lamb Taste Like?
The taste is reminiscent of beef, but honestly, still very different. The difference comes from something called the branch fatty acid, which leaves the unique taste in your mouth. The taste also depends of the quality of the lamb, the cut, how it was raised, and, if it's cooked properly. These factors are all important to look at when you're trying lamb.
In this recipe, we're going to bring some bold and earthy flavors to match that taste. The stars of the show are going to be garlic and rosemary (in the roast rub and in the gravy we'll make after!).
What Exactly is Leg of Lamb?
Leg of lamb typically comes from the back leg of the lamb, higher up the animal (closer to the hip area). There's tons of meat there, and it's known for being super tender. The lamb shank, while still the leg, comes from lower on the leg, more of where we would think of the shin. Both are super delicious, but the shank has slightly more connective tissue and usually needs to be braised for long periods of time to be fall off the bone.
The ingredient list isn't extensive, or difficult! We're going to make a bed of veggies for the lamb to roast on:
For the Leg of Lamb
- 4-7 pound of bone-in leg of lamb (or boneless leg of lamb)
- Onion or shallots
For the Gravy
- Pan drippings
- Chicken broth
How to Make the Lamb
First of all, Bone-In or Boneless?
So, based on what you decide to go with here, your cooking technique, time, and end texture will be very different. If you go with bone-in, it will be incredibly moist, with rich, deep flavor, and a tender texture. It will also take MUCH longer to cook (that's where the whole slow roasted part comes in). With boneless leg of lamb, the texture is going to come out more like a prime rib roast - and you can choose the doneness that you'd like (in this instance, I would highly recommend medium rare). It will still be very, very good, and have a great texture, plus, it will take much less time to good (about 20 minutes per pound). So, decide accordingly what you're going for!
How much Leg of Lamb should I make per Person?
For both a boneless and bone-in leg of lamb, you should count of 1 pound per person. So if you're serving 4, look for one around four pounds. For eight people, eight pounds, etc. etc. You won't likely see to m any legs bigger than eight pounds, so if you're serving a big crowd, you might have to go with two.
Cooking time for Bone-In
The cooking time for bone-in leg of lamb is going to be pretty long, so we can get that fall of the bone texture. Low and slow is the key here. Basically, depending on the size, we're going to cook it for 5-6 hours in the oven with it covered up, and then another 45 minutes uncovered to brown the outside. Settle in folks, it's going to be a long one (but worth it I promise).
Cooking Time for Boneless
The cooking time for boneless is so much quicker, because you don't want it to cook fully through (and you're going to be slicing, not having it fall off the bone). If you want medium rare, it should be in a 325F oven for about 20 minutes per pound (I highly recommend a wireless meat thermometer to be sure you don't over cook it). If you like medium, then do 25 minutes per pound, and for well done, 30 minutes per pound.
Making the Gravy
To make the delicious, delicious rosemary gravy, we're going to start by making a roux. So, first, strain all the pan drippings through a sieve. Next, hit up a medium saucepan with butter and flour (1:1) ratio.
Whisk this until it's smooth and well combined (about a minute or so).
After that, slowly add the pan drippings and chicken stock in a steady stream. Add the chopped rosemary, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Keep cooking on a low simmer until it thickens slightly (between 8-10 minutes). If it gets too thick on you, don't worry, just thin it out with some more chicken broth!
Tips and Tricks
- If you're shopping for bone-in leg of lamb, try and get one that is longer and skinner. I know this seems counter intuitive, but it creates the best texture for bone-in, because so much of the meat is close to the bone. The one I used for these pictures had tons more meat, and was very tender, but wasn't quite as fall off the bone as others I've had.
- Try fennel as a vegetable in the bottom of the pan! It adds a great depth of flavor to the gravy.
- You can eat the veggies in the pan, but they are very, VERY mushy by the time they come out of the oven, so I usually don't.
The lamb and the gravy will keep for up to four days in the fridge in an airtight container. You can also freeze the meat for up to six months.
I feel compelled to say that for me, this is a dish best enjoyed day of. Although it does make a mean sandwich in the days after.
What to Serve with Leg of Lamb
With a show-stopping main course, you're going to want to make sure the rest of your sides measure up. It also depends on what time of year you're serving the lamb. For spring summer, stick with the lighter sides, and for fall winter, go in the carrots, Brussel's sprouts and mashed potatoes.
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The number one classic go-to pairing for leg of lamb is Pinot Noir, and that would be an excellent choice here. The lamb has a pretty bold flavor, and lots of fat, so we need something that's able to cut through it with some acidity and bold, fruity flavors. Hence: Pinot Noir.
If you're looking to go in a completely different direction in terms of the flavor profile, try a cool-climate Syrah. The peppery flavors here pair brilliantly with the lamb.
For a 4-7 lb bone-in roast, between 4.5 and 6 hours at 300°F.
Medium Rare: 145°F
A Pinot Noir is a classic choice, but a Syrah is also great.
Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Rosemary Gravy
- Roasting pan
For the Lamb
- 3 celery stocks roughly chopped
- 2 carrots roughly chopped
- 5 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- 4 shallots peeled and cut in half
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 5 springs rosemary
- 1 4-7 lb bone-in leg of lamb (for boneless cooking instructions, see notes)
For the Gravy
- 1 C pan drippings (more or less, depending on how much you get)
- 3 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoon flour
- 1 C chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
For the Lamb
- Preheat your oven to 300°F.
- Spread the vegetables, garlic, and shallots over the bottom of a large roasting pan. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Place the rosemary and the leg of lamb on top of the vegetables. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper.
- Cover the lamb with tin foil, and roast, for 4½ to 5½ hours, depending on the size of your leg (the internal temperature should be around 170°F).
- Uncover the lamb, and cook for an additional 45 minutes to brown the top.
- Remove the lamb from the pan, and set aside to rest under tin foil as you make the gravy.
For the Gravy
- Carefully strain the drippings from the pan (we don't want any solid veggies in here). Set aside.
- Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk continuously for about a minute, until well combined and smooth.
- Add the pan drippings in a continuous stream, whisking the entire time.
- Add one cup of chicken stock in the same manner. Add salt, pepper and rosemary.
- Continue simmering for about 10 minutes, or until the gravy starts to thicken (if it gets too thick, just add some more chicken stock and whisk).
- Serve immediately alongside the leg of lamb.
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